United States District Court, D. New Mexico
APRIL N. MEDINA, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. RITTER, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff April N.
Medina's Motion to Reverse and Remand Agency Decision for
Payment of Benefits or in the Alternative, for a Rehearing,
[Doc. 17], filed April 9, 2018. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73(b), the parties
have consented to the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct
dispositive proceedings in this matter, including the entry
of final judgment. [Docs. 3, 7, 8]. Having studied the
parties' positions, the relevant law, and the relevant
portions of the Administrative Record
(“AR”),  the Court grants Ms. Medina's
Motion and remands this case for further administrative
analysis, for the reasons set forth below.
Court's role in a Social Security appeal is specific and
narrow. Ordinarily, the Commissioner's decision must be
affirmed where the correct legal standards are applied and
the decision is supported by substantial evidence. These
standards are deferential; the Court is not permitted to
reweigh the evidence or substitute its judgment for that of
the Commissioner. However, the reviewing Court must be able
to follow the adjudicator's reasoning, especially where a
claim is denied at Step Five of the sequential evaluation
process. This is because the burden is on the Commissioner at
Step Five to prove that the claimant can still perform work
that exists in the national economy.
case, the Commissioner found that Ms. Medina retains the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to work at
Step Five. However, in coming to this conclusion, the ALJ
failed to consider the “total limiting effects”
of Ms. Medina's non-severe impairments on her RFC.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(e). This was clear
legal error, and it harmed Ms. Medina because if the effects
of her non-severe impairments had been considered, her RFC
might have been more limited than the full range of work
found in this case. This is not to say that Ms. Medina
deserves benefits. On remand, the Commissioner may come to
the same ultimate conclusion that she is not disabled under
the Social Security Act. However, without the correct
analysis, this Court has no choice but to remand this case
for further administrative proceedings.
Medina filed an application with the Social Security
Administration for supplemental security income benefits
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on April 21, 2014.
AR at 187-192. As grounds, Ms. Medina alleged
“Bipolar.” AR at 230. Ms. Medina alleged
that her condition became severe enough to keep her from
working on June 1, 2011. AR at 230. The
Administration denied Ms. Medina's claim initially and
upon reconsideration, and she requested a de novo
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). AR at 92-137.
James Linehan held an evidentiary hearing on October 11,
2016. AR at 40-64. On November 3, 2016, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Ms. Medina has
not been under a disability from the date her application was
filed through the date of his decision. AR at 34. In
response, Ms. Medina filed a “Request for Review of
Hearing Decision/Order” on December 5, 2016.
AR at 786. After reviewing her case, the Appeals
Council denied Ms. Medina's request for review on
September 25, 2017. AR at 1-6. As such, the
ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759
(10th Cir. 2003). This Court now has jurisdiction to review
the decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 20
C.F.R. § 422.210(a).
claimant seeking disability benefits must establish that she
is unable to engage in “any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The
Commissioner must use a five-step sequential evaluation
process to determine eligibility for benefits. 20 C.F.R.
One of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that
Ms. Medina has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since her application date. AR at 22. At Step Two,
he determined that Ms. Medina has the severe impairments of
“affective disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic
stress disorder, and anxiety disorder[.]” AR
at 17. At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Medina's
impairments, individually and in combination, do not meet or
medically equal the regulatory “listings.”
AR at 23-25. Ms. Medina does not challenge these
findings on appeal. [See Doc. 17].
claimant does not meet a listed impairment, the ALJ must
determine her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). “RFC
is an administrative assessment of the extent to which an
individual's medically determinable impairment(s),
including any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause
physical or mental limitations or restrictions that may
affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical and
mental activities.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2.
“RFC is not the least an individual can do
despite his or her limitations or restrictions, but the
most.” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *1. In
this case, the ALJ determined that Ms. Medina retains the RFC
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following non-exertional limitations. She would be
limited to work that is of specific vocational preparation
(SVP) level 2 or less as defined in the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles. The claimant cannot perform work
requiring a specific production rate and is limited to
performing jobs requiring no more than simple workplace
judgment. The claimant can respond appropriately to routine
workplace change. She can interact appropriately with
supervisors and co-workers on an occasional basis and on a
limited basis with the general public.
AR at 25-26.
skipped Step Four, as he found that Ms. Medina has no past
relevant work. AR at 32. Employing this RFC at Step
Five, and relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert,
the ALJ determined that Ms. Medina can perform work that
exists in the national economy, despite her limitations.
AR at 32-33. Specifically, the ALJ determined that
Ms. Medina retains the functional capacity to work as a
Laundry Worker, Industrial Sweeper-Cleaner, or Housekeeping
Cleaner. AR at 33. ...